Man using earplugs to protect his hearing before a concert.

If you’re subjected to loud noises, for example running a lawnmower in your yard, going to a venue to see your favorite band in concert, or merely sleeping at home beside a snoring spouse, earplugs may be practical. In the first two cases, they can assist in protecting your ears by turning down the volume. They assist in saving your peace of mind and perhaps even your relationships, in the last case, by permitting you to get a good night’s sleep. But are these ear protectors, in fact, causing damage to your hearing?

Why Use Earplugs at All?

The argument for earplugs is fairly simple: Properly used, earplugs can help protect your hearing by reducing your direct exposure to extreme sound levels. When you leave a loud place, say a football game where the announcer keeps exhorting the crowd to, GET LOUD, every time the other team kicks off, you’ve most likely noticed that your hearing seems different, and you may also experience symptoms of tinnitus. Those tiny hairs are bent by this sort of noise exposure and that’s why this occurs. It usually goes away within a couple of days, because the hair cells have recovered.

But in many circumstances, there is a constant assault on those tiny hairs, particularly if you work in a high volume trade such as construction or in an airport. In this situation, those hairs cannot get better, they are permanently damaged. Inside each cochlea, you have about 16,000 of these tiny hair cells, but up to 50% of them can be destroyed or at least injured before you would see the different in a hearing test.

Is it Possible That Your Ears Could be Injured by Earplugs?

When it comes to protecting your ears, it seems like it would be a no-brainer to use earplugs. But particularly if you’re in situations where you’re exposed to loud noises every day (like on the job or when your significant other snores as previously stated), headphones that limit, but don’t completely cancel, sound or over the head earmuffs are a much smarter idea. Earplugs are better suited to one-off situations like a sporting event or concert than for everyday use.

Why? For one, earwax. Your ears make wax to defend themselves, and if wearing earplugs is something you do frequently, they’re going to make more of it, and the earplugs will jam it in further. This can lead to troubles like impacted earwax, which can cause tinnitus and other hearing problems.

An ear infection can also be the result from overuse of earplugs. They can become bacteria breeding grounds if you regularly use the same pair without proper cleaning and disinfecting. Ear infections are, at a minimum, an uncomfortable annoyance. But at the worst-case-scenario end of the scale, they can also result in hearing loss if you fail to get treatment.

How Can You Safely Use Earplugs?

Whether it’s a good night sleep or safeguarding your hearing, there’s still a big positive to wearing earplugs. You just need to be sure you’re using the right kind and using them in the proper way. The porous material of foam earplugs is a germ haven so it’s a helpful thing they are the least expensive. Don’t put silicone or wax earplugs back in until they are completely dry after utilizing warm water to entirely clean them. It’s also a good idea to keep earplugs in a ventilated place to discourage moisture, or worse, bacteria or mold, from accumulating.

If you need or want to use earplugs on a regular basis, you may want to get in touch with us about getting custom-made earplugs. They’re comfortable because they’re crafted from molds of your ears and they’re reusable. But it’s important not to forget, good earplug hygiene can lessen hearing impairment.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

Main Line Audiology Consultants, PC